Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
The Bill is a response to an incremental situation that has been developing for several years. Provision in this area was not a spontaneous decision of the Irish Legislature but, rather, was instigated by the European Union. The first legislation to address it was enacted in 1998 and provided 14 weeks leave for parents of children up to the age of five. The next relevant Act, enacted in 2006, increased the relevant age to eight years, while in 2013 the number of weeks of leave was increased from 14 to 18. It is worth noting that Ireland is very much in the lower half of European countries in terms of the amount of parental leave allowed. A very significant number of countries in Europe provide more than twice the number of weeks leave provided for in Ireland. That is worth bearing in mind.
I read all the submissions, including those from IBEC. The Government suggestion that the entitlement be phased in over a number of years originates in an IBEC proposal which was taken on by the Government. In circumstances where we are lagging behind most European countries in this area, we should not accept that proposal.
Like most Members present, I received a very large number of submissions on this issue from people telling their personal stories. All of the submissions I received were from women. One states: "I have two children, aged just 2 and just 4, and have reached a stage where working full time and wanting to be the best mammy I can has me at a breaking point emotionally." That is an example of the strain that people are under.Another one states:
My child is vulnerable and requires additional supports which require on going appointments. As a recently separated single parent, the extension in age from 8 to 12 and in weeks from 18 to 26 being proposed by this particular bill is a vital lifeline for me and many struggling parents in employment ....
That is how significant it is in the lived experience of the people who have been contacting me.
Another letter states: "My parental leave which I have taken for the past 2 years as a 4 day work week ....". That is an interesting and imaginative use of the time. Instead of taking it in a lump, this person has spread it out and it has worked a four-day week for the past two years. It goes on:
... & has allowed me to stay in this role that I love & am successful in, has just run out. I am facing the prospect of having to resign from my current role & seek a role on a part time basis if this bill is not passed.
That is an indication of the urgency of the Bill. The Minister of State is a decent and humane man. I see him nodding so presumably he is in agreement and understands the human dimension of these things. It further states: "This will be at least a 50% pay cut for my family and I will likely never again reach the same level in an organisation if I have to restart in a few years time."
I received a final one in which the woman uses a significant phrase. She states:
Any working parent will tell you of the sense of being emotionally torn between the need to work to provide financially for their child and wanting to spend more time with their child. Parental leave - although unpaid ...
That is a significant point that not everyone in the debate realises. Some people assume that when one gets this parental leave one continues to be paid by the firm but that is not the case. One does not get paid, so there is a cost to the parent taking that leave. She states: "Parental leave - although unpaid - allows the parent that space to spend time with their child when they need it most - in the formative years."
These are the arguments that myself and my colleagues are making and there is a strong feeling throughout the House that this Bill should be passed today.